Director: Travis Knight
Screenwriter: Christina Hodson
Stars: Hailee Steinfeld, Jorge Lendeborg, Jr., John Cena
When the first Transformers movie came out I thought it was OK. It wasn’t going to become an obsession like Star Wars for me, but it was passable. Unfortunately, like a lot of franchises, the longer they go on the worse they get, so by part three I’d lost all interest in seeing giant robots punch each other and destroy cities as they get thrown about.
So if not for the positive buzz around this film, indicating that it wasn’t just more of the same from Michael Bay, I probably wouldn’t have even gone to see this film, but thankfully I did.
One thing I do remember about the first Transformers film is that Bumblebee was already here on Earth before the rest of them showed up, so this film, set in 1987, explains how he got here and lost the use of his vocal unit.
This film is basically the anti-Michael Bay version of Transformers. Sure, there are still big transforming robots that wail on each other, but this film actually has a human story and more importantly a heart, that was missing from so many of Bay’s attempts.
The cast are all unknowns (to me, at least). So much so, this almost feels like a low-budget indie version of Transformers, if such a thing were possible. The only cast member I vaguely recognised was wrestler turned actor, John Cena who plays the token military guy, but it’s Hailee Steinfeld’s character Charlie who carries the film and she’s very likeable as a sassy, kick-ass mechanic with some family issues. This is what I mean about it feeling like an indie; she doesn’t drive a $200,000 sports car or work for some Top Secret government agency. Her family are lower-middle-class working stiffs just trying to make ends meet, and this makes her a much more relatable hero than these films have given us in a long time.
Initially it’s a girl-meets-car love story, with some nice interplay between them, and even some visual slapstick reminiscent of Buster Keaton or Laurel & Hardy, thanks to Bumblebee’s inability to speak. He’s also lost his memory files temporarily, so the warrior transformer comes across more as an armour-plated Bambi, lost in a strange place and unsure of who to trust.
Unlike Bay who needs to have something blow up every ten minutes, this film moves at its own pace and allows the story to unfold naturally, firstly with Bumblebee and then with awkward love interest Memo, who has apparently been living next door to Charlie his whole life and never got up the courage to talk to her until now.
Of course a couple of Decepticons show up looking for Bumblebee and ally themselves with the military, who are led to believe Bumblebee is the bad guy. That all goes how you might expect, but there is a nice joke about the Internet in there. So all these blossoming relationships have to get put on hold when there’s fighting to be done, but the fact there is only three of them on the planet is a blessing. Some of the later Transformers movies had so many CG robots smashing so much other CG stuff, it just became a mess of pixels to me. When the showdown comes in this movie it’s all perfectly clear what’s happening and where everyone is.
So if, like me, you wrote this franchise off a long time ago, I’d urge you to give this film a try. It’s got a killer 80s soundtrack if that’s your thing – it certainly is mine – and it’s a much better movie than Bay ever made. Giving the story an emotional core and a sense of fun that Bay lost a long time ago, has transformed this ailing franchise into something new and wonderful.